As you may have heard, finding an apartment in Berlin can be notoriously difficult. Of course, this isn’t always the case and if you don’t mind about living in a less popular neighbourhood or you are extremely lucky, you may manage to secure a contract after one or two visits. This guide aims to provide you some more information about moving to Berlin: Where to stay when you get here, what resources to use when searching for a flat, what paperwork you often need and some extra tips about being selected when you apply for an apartment.
Useful terms you will come across
- WG (pronounced ‘Vey-gay’) – A room in a shared house.
- Mieten – To rent
- Untermieten – To sub-let
- Kaltmiete – Cold rent. This means the cost you see is just for the apartment, not any bills. Expect 100€-150€ extra per month to cover gas, water, electricity and internet.
- Warmmiete – Warm rent. This cost includes gas, water and electricity, and sometimes even internet.
- Kaution – deposit. Expect up to three months of the cold rental price.
Everyone knows AirBnB. Useful for short-term lets. Lately, more and more people have been letting their places on AirBnB, increasing the overall rents in the city (at least that’s what the housing authorities believe). As a result, new housing laws in Berlin do not allow renting a whole apartment via AirBnB; only rooms at a time when a long-term renter is also in the apartment as well. You might want to consider this information if you decide to stay in the city short-term and opt for AirBnB.
My #1 choice for property websites when searching for your first flat. This website allows you to search for WG (flat shares) and apartments. As it is well-known, there are plenty of offers, posted every day. These apartments range from being short-term to long-term and are often sub-lets (which are legal here). This means documents are often still required but you often need less of them than if you are applying for an apartment through a property agent. As a rule of thumb, I would recommend downloading the WG -Gesucht app on your phone, refreshing it every now and then (every hour if possible) and quickly messaging the flat providers in case of any appealing opportunity. As housing is a very competitive market, it’s quite usual for a landlord to find a tenant in 2 days from posting the apartment online. Keep that in mind and be as fast as possible, particular in places of interest.
One of the primary websites for finding properties to rent or buy in Germany. This website is great for finding a permanent rental contract, but beware it can be difficult to find anything short-term if you are hunting for your first flat. Official property agents will often require a large number of documents that you may not have when moving to Germany, for example an Anmeldung (city registration), three pay slips and a job contract. The website is only available in German, so if you use it make sure to use a browser that allows for auto-translation to English like Google Chrome.
Where to live when you get to Berlin
Finding an apartment can be a lengthy process, so you need to secure some short-term accommodation before you move here. The chances of you being able to secure a proper apartment remotely are quite slim. At best, you can find a WG/flat share. Due to this, I would recommend either booking an AirBnB for at least 3/4 weeks, a room in a flat share (try the website WG-Gesucht) or even a hotel.
What area should I live in?
Berlin is a huge city, so finding an apartment in an area you find desirable that is close to work and friends is key. We will have some pages dedicated to each neighbourhood, but here is very, very brief description of some of the major neighbourhoods in Central Berlin:
Mitte – The neighbourhood that covers the centre of Berlin. Popular ‘living’ neighbourhoods in the centre include Hackescher Markt, Jannowitzbrücke and Rosenthaler Platz. It is generally a posh area of Berlin, with higher rents, more expensive bars and restaurants. One can always see many touristic attractions and tourists (duh!).
Friedrichshain – A neighbourhood in the East of Berlin, north of Kreuzberg and the Spree river. Friedrichshain is home to popular areas such as Warshauer Straße and Boxhagener Platz. The area is famous for bars and clubs and feels quite gentrified lately. It is mostly inhabited by young people and young families.
Kreuzberg – A neighbourhood south of the Spree and Friedrichshain. This area is a very popular for tourists and Berliners alike. It’s quite famous for bars.
Prenzlauer Berg – An upmarket neighbourhood north of Friedrichshain and Mitte. This neighbourhood is often joked about for being the baby neighbourhood as it is very popular for people with young families. However, it is certainly more upmarket than Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg, yet not as busy as Mitte and. It is home to many nice shops, restaurants and bars.
Neukölln – A rapidly gentrifying neighbourhood south of Kreuzberg. It is traditionally a Turkish area and is gaining a lot of popularity as a neighbourhood to live in. It is definitely cheaper than Mitte, Prenzlauerberg or Friedrichschain, but is gaining more and more popularity, especially among students and young professionals.
Charlottenburg – A large neighbourhood in West Berlin. Often associated with surrounding neighbourhoods such as Zoologischer Garten and Tiergarten, approximately 10 minutes away from Mitte. It is a higher-end, relatively expensive area, with lots of shopping streets, nice bars and restaurants and the area of choice for clubs that play commercial music. It is definitely a contrast to the relaxed, techno, “hipster” culture in the east. Very popular with people working in the west, with great transport links into the centre.
Below is a map of Berlin rental prices overlaid on top of the transport network. The prices seem roughly accurate so it is definitely worth bearing in mind when looking at different areas.
Advice for contacting landlords
When you send a message to a landlord, ensure that you personalise the message to the apartment that you are applying for. Tell the prospective landlord a bit about yourself like how long you have lived in Berlin, where you are currently staying, what you do for work or where you study etc… If you are foreign and your German is not so good, try to translate your message into German when contacting potential landlords to attract their attention, and explain that you would rather communicate in another language (if that is the case).
Advice for apartment viewings
One tip that I received when first looking for apartments is to print all of your required documents off multiple times and keep the copies in plastic folders. When going to a viewing, you can then immediately provide these to the landlord or property agent. The first time I did this I was the only person with documents and was subsequently offered the flat, so I would recommend this approach.
I was surprised to hear that some German people would not provide their Schufa, as it contains a lot of discrete information. If you, just like them, are not comfortable with providing personal documents, I would recommend providing the rest of what is required by the landlord and providing the Schufa after you have signed the apartment contract.
Beware of scams!
At one point during my search, I was notified by the website WG Gesucht that one of the apartments I applied for had been the work of a known scammer. Luckily, I had not been in contact with this person beyond an initial email. It may sound obvious, but NEVER send any payment to a potential landlord before reading over and signing a contract. Ideally, you will also meet this person beforehand. Scammers are known to use Skype, and will try and get you to send money to their bank account to secure a property or pay a deposit. Exercise due caution when dealing with someone remotely and try and confirm that they are who they say they are!